dirty dishes


I recall my grandson, John, being the helpful boy he was, had surprised his mother by putting away all of the dishes in the dishwasher.  At six, he was so pleased with himself,  and she thanked him with a generous hug and kiss telling him how thoughtful he was and how much she appreciated him.  There was just a slight problem.  The dishes hadn’t been washed.  So when he had gone his merry way to play she washed every dish in the cabinet — dirty ones and clean ones alike.

When Ken is my husband he often wants to help in the kitchen.  A one-time Navy cook he had bragged for decades about his skills, but  during all of those boastful years Ken seldom used any of those skills in our kitchen.  However, when he retired I strongly suggested to him that cleaning the kitchen would be one of his homemaking  jobs saying, “If you’re retired, then so am I.”   I was pleasantly surprised to find he was totally accepting of his new job assignment and would often ask, “What can I do to help?”  And he began rekindling his old skills.

It seems, though, that time and circumstances do have  their way with us, making change a constant in our lives.   As his memory began to fade he could accomplish less and less in some areas, but was still a very good prep cook happily peeling vegetables, taking out the garbage and sweeping up the floor.  When even those skills diminished I found I would rather he didn’t do anything, but just as a wise mother doesn’t discourage the help of her young children, I didn’t want to hurt Ken’s feelings by telling him that he was actually in the way.  So, for the most part, when he is cooperative and not argumentative he can help.

Perhaps it’s because of those years when the kitchen was his responsibility that he has become obsessed with the sink and counter space.  When I bring out greens and other vegetables to make a salad, he puts them back in the refrigerator as soon as I turn my back, he also puts serving bowls out of sight, washes  greased cookie sheets while I’m mixing the batter and polishes the sink each time I rinse my hands.

If I wash a few pots and pans, leaving them to drain in the sink he wants them put away — right now — dripping wet.  More often than not our home and cooking area has become HIS house and HIS kitchen, wanting everything in its own place or out of sight — according to him.   Sometimes if he discovers dishes in the dishwasher he will empty it.  With the progression of Alzheimer’s, though, he can’t tell the difference between clean and dirty dishes even though I periodically sprinkle them with catsup believing that might identify them as needing to be washed.  One morning, however, I caught him as he opened the dishwasher and began to remove the dishes, catsup and all.

“They’re dirty,” I said.

“No they’re not,” he replied, apparently not seeing the red blotches.

“Yes,” I insisted.  They are dirty.  That’s why they’re in there.  This is the dishwasher and when it’s full, it will wash the dishes.  That’s it’s job.”

“Not necessarily,” he said in his arrogant tone, which is not that of Ken.

“We’re not going to argue about this,” I stated.  “The dishes are dirty.  Do not put them away until they are washed,” I concluded emphatically, closing the door, and suggesting that there might be a ball game on television.

I busied myself elsewhere and later that afternoon I noticed he had managed to empty the dishwasher in spite of me.   He mentioned how hard he had worked cleaning up the kitchen and putting everything away.  I sighed and thanked him for his effort.  Later, when he wasn’t looking, I filled the dishwasher to capacity with dishes from the cabinets and emptied all of the forks, knives and spoons from the drawers into the basket washing it all, just as my daughter had done with six-year-old John.

“Let’s see now,” I asked myself thoughtfully, ” is there another way?   How did we do the dishes way back when……?”    Oh yes:  fill the sink with hot soapy water, toss your helper a towel and say, “I’ll wash, you dry.”  And he does.

Originally posted 2009-05-21 06:42:17.


“I got a new wallet for Christmas,” said my friend Wayne.  “Would you like my old one?”   I must have looked a little puzzled at his remark until he reminded me that I had told him about Ken and his missing wallet.  I had also mentioned how he  hides his disposable razor and toothbrush, and how I keep recycling them when they show up in odd places.  “You could recycle my old wallet,”  Wayne’s suggested.   I thought for a minute about all the stuff Ken carries in his wallet.  A few dollars, a photo copy of his I.D., some business cards, a calendar, a photo or two — nothing important — but to him it’s all important.   Then I realized he doesn’t remember what’s in his wallet, except for the money.   That’s his worry.  “I don’t have any money,” he often laments.  Just as a purse is part of being a woman, a wallet is an important part of being a man, even if all he does is count the money.    Having back-up wallets would eliminate a lot of Ken’s misery at finding his lost.   Thanks Wayne, great idea.  I’ll check around and see if others might have an old wallet not in use to add to the supply.

While I’m talking about hiding, I suppose I have become as guilty as Ken.  With me, I hide things from Ken — most importantly — keys.  A few times I have been careless and he once took the truck for a ride.  Other times, if he is Mr. Hyde or Buddy, he will hide my keys from me because they belong to either his wife or his mother.    Therefore, I have become fanatic about putting them in their own hiding place.  Not a convenient spot, but definitely an out-of-sight place.

However, I hide other things as well, including dishes.  Actually, dirty dishes.  I haven’t always hidden dishes, but lately it’s become a necessity.  Shortly after he retired we came to an understanding that I wasn’t going to be his servant and he wasn’t going to be Lord of The Manor.  His household job was to keep the kitchen clean and that included doing the dishes.  If I cooked, he had to clean up.  He agreed and became a rather good tender of the kitchen.   Now, with his Alzheimer’s, I would rather he didn’t help in the kitchen, but I must have taught him well, because somewhere in his confusion, after a meal he insists, “I’ll do the dishes.”

With two years of lower than normal rainfall, the San Francisco Bay Area, at least our water district, has imposed water rationing.   Since his dementia, Ken washes  everything under hot running water, allowing the water to run and run and run much to my exasperation.  I have watched him rinse a glass for a minute and a half and all it contained was water.  He becomes very angry with me if I suggest, “Just put it in the dishwasher.”   “NO!” he growls, “This is my house!  Don’t tell me  what to do!  And this glass is clean.”    Or plate or pan or whatever.  So I try to get to the sink first and hide the dishes when he isn’t looking because I have only seconds to make them disappear. 

While I am cooking I fill a bowl with tools and cups, or other things I’ve used and shove them into the oven or into the microwave.  I’ve even carried plates unrinsed and unscraped into the nearby bedroom just to get them out of his sight.  Our granddaughter, Kristina, is staying with us for a while.   Finding a few dishes in her bedroom she simply stated, “Grandma,  I know you have a logical explanation about the dirty dishes on the desk so I’m not even going to ask.”  “Thank you, Kristina,” I answered.  “It’s complicated.”

Originally posted 2009-02-07 06:29:31.

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